Commerce Bank dead, ‘Starview Plaza’ Reborn

The Commerce Bank project (just across from Plato’s Dinner) was rejected unanimously by the City Council almost a year ago and not approved until it removed a drive thru window from its plans. Now, we are getting news that the bank pulled out and now the developer is walking away…

Beleagured Starview Project‘Starview Plaza’ (located just north of CP Car Wash), a project which has languished for years as a joint venture between the City-University Partnership, a private developer, and other public partners, has been reborn as a five-story student housing project with 540 beds and ground floor retail. According to the Diamondback, the developer is taking LEED Silver Certification seriously. The project joins a growing list of recently proposed student housing projects – the trend differs dramatically from what we saw just 6 months ago.

Dernoga Lets JPI West Through Relatively Unscathed

College Park West - The Jefferson

Just when we were about to post another scathing criticism of County Councilman Tom Dernoga (this time about his hold up of the JPI West project), he let JPI West (aka “The Jefferson”) go forward. After an 11th hour skimming of 20 units off the approved 220 units yesterday, Dernoga let the project proceed relatively intact. Maybe he’s turned a new leaf since Mazza. We know for sure that his misjudgment on that project scared developers away from more than one potential College Park project in his district north of 193. Thanks Mr. Dernoga for seeing the urgent need for College Park revitalization that we do.

Site Hosting Problems

Regular visitors may have noticed the website running slowly or erratically over the past two weeks. We’ve been experiencing intermittent yet persistent hosting problems without provider, Yahoo Small Business Web Hosting. Despite dozens of messages to their technical support they have insisted the problems are with our web connections and not their servers. We’re running WordPress 2.0.2 and receiving around 300 unique visitors each day. Despite the increased traffic due to the Purple Line content, it’s not more than previous busy periods.

It would be helpful to us if visitors could explain any problems they’ve experienced in the comments to this post so that we can show Yahoo! Hosting a problem exists. If we cannot resolve the problem in one week we’ll be moving to another provider. Suggestions about potential solutions are also welcome.

Intercollegiate Athletics Weighs in On Purple Line Debate

A broadcast e-mail was sent out by Terrapin Club Executive Director Greg Enloe on Thursday urging Club members to oppose the Campus Drive alignment recommended by MTA.  Here is the email text (scroll all the way down for analysis):

Dear Terrapin Club Members,

Recently, the State of Maryland Transit Administration announced their intention to pursue the creation of a light rail line that would run from Bethesda to New Carrolton.  The proposed “Purple Line” would run through areas in Montgomery County and Prince Georges County, including through the University of Maryland campus.  An Open Meeting was held on October 29th in College Park to initiate discussion with community leaders and members of the College Park community and surrounding areas.  A number of us attended the meeting.  We wanted to update you on the project, the current position of the Athletic Department and the Terrapin Club and how to receive further information on the project.

The project is in its initial phases and the Maryland Transit Authority is still gathering important environmental impact information, as well as information on traffic patterns in the affected areas.

Maryland Athletics and the Terrapin Club leadership support the Purple Line on campus.  The line will provide access for thousands of fans to come to athletics events, including football, men’s and women’s basketball and our 24 other varsity sports.

Connecting Montgomery County to College Park will provide a number of our most loyal fans from Bethesda, Silver Spring and other nearby areas with direct and easy access to athletic events, reducing dependence on automobiles and thus reducing traffic on game days.

THAT SAID, WE ARE NOT IN FAVOR OF A CAMPUS DRIVE ALIGNMENT FOR THE PURPLE LINE, AS CURRENTLY RECOMMENDED BY THE STATE HIGHWAY ADMINSTRATION, FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS: 

1. We are concerned that the Campus Drive alignment would negatively impact the essential physical character of our campus, forever damaging the aesthetic beauty of the University of Maryland.

2. A Campus Drive alignment will mean the loss of hundreds of Terrapin Club parking spaces for home football games.  Maryland Athletics is a self-supported campus unit.  We also pay the campus several million dollars in annual overhead and taxes.  Parking benefits for fans constitute a vital element of our ability to achieve our fundraising requirements.  The loss of these parking spaces will damage our ability to remain self-sufficient and to continue to pay the subsidies to the University.

3. Aligning the light rail tracks through Lot 1 will force tens of thousands of football fans to cross the tracks on their way to the football stadium, creating a significant safety concern for our fans, many of whom are families with young children.  The light rail will stop every 3 minutes in peak hours and in non-peak hours, every 6 minutes.

Maryland Athletics and the Terrapin Club support either a Stadium Drive (North) alignment or Mowatt Lane (South) alignment for the Purple Line, for the following reasons:

1. A Stadium Drive or Mowatt Lane alignment would preserve the beauty of the campus we are all so proud of and would serve the student and faculty community for the entire campus.

2. Secondly, there would be minimal impact on parking spaces allocated for Terrapin Club members on football game days in either alignment.

3. A station positioned at the corner of Stadium Drive and Regents Drive would be ideal to ease traffic for home basketball games at Comcast Center.  With such proximity to Comcast Center, the Purple Line would be easily accessible to the center of campus and would provide basketball fans with a reasonable transportation alternative to automobiles.

4. And finally, a more southern route at Mowatt Lane would increase accessibility to campus and would better accommodate the merchants in the heart of College Park.

In summation, Maryland Athletics and the Terrapin Club members support the Purple Line on campus with a Stadium Drive or Mowatt Lane alignment.  Either is a better possible solution to ensure the beauty of our campus, fiscal stability for Maryland Athletics, and overall fan safety.

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to hold several informational meetings in the impacted areas.  The next meeting for the College Park area will be held on Wednesday, December 5, 2007 from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the College Park Municipal Center at 4500 Knox Road…. (it goes on to supply emails and phone numbers of people to contact)

Like other recent communications emanating from the Office of President Mote and Vice President for Administrative Affairs Douglas M Duncan, this e-mail seems designed to foment hysteria among the tens of thousands of people who really will be future beneficiaries of the Purple Line.

The Enloe communication demonstrates a failure to understand many basics about the alignment discussions.

  • First it resurrects the idea of a Mowatt Lane alignment.  Such an alignment was discarded by the university and City of College Park years ago.  It would provide much poorer service to the core of campus as well as North Campus, the location of most high volume special event destinations.  It also would require a new tunnel on Knox Road underneath the metrorail and CSX tracks and does not serve the new East Campus Development.
  • Secondly, Mr. Enloe assumes that a Campus Drive alignment would result in the loss of parking while Stadium Drive would not.  Given that the evaluation of Stadium Drive has not even been completed, this is presumptuous.  However, in either case parking spaces required for the Purple Line would need to be replaced, so the more tactical position of both the administration and ICA would be to insist on construction of a replacement  garage along Campus Drive serving  (west and central campus) as well as some limited underground parking along Rt. 1 serving the administration complex.
  • Recent Rethink College Park posting addresses the fear mongering in the Terp Club letter and other university pronouncements regarding safety.  FTA maintains statistics on safety of all modes of transportation and light rail is safer than buses or automobiles (which will be the subject of a future posting).
  • The letter apes Campus pronouncements regarding preservation of the beauty of the Campus Drive corridor.  These people must be ignoring the current mishmash of chain link fences and uncoordinated landscaping that marks this core roadway and that would be replaced with a coherent streetscape, lighting, sidewalks and landscaping as part of the Purple Line project.

Pedestrian safety concerns logically grow the closer the Purple Line would be to major sports venues.  This is the real reason that a Stadium Drive option is problematic.  As Senior Planner Greg Benz of Parsons-Brinkerhoff pointed out at the 10/29/07 focus group meeting, sports venues need “breathing room” between themselves and the transit stop to avoid unacceptable game day congestion.

Debunking Light Rail Myths With YouTube

The University Administration have argued the Purple Line should not go on Campus Drive for a variety of reasons. They worry it won’t be pedestrian friendly, and have implied it would be loud or cause vibrations. Fortunately, in today’s age we can easily find video of similar systems elsewhere in the country. Let’s see if their concerns hold up to real-world conditions.

Light Rail and Pedestrians

This video of a train pulling into a station in San Jose demonstrates why Light Rail and pedestrians are compatible. Watch the man walking along the platform closely: although he is very close to the train the fixed rails means he has nothing to worry about because he knows exactly where the train will go.

Light Rail and Automobiles

This video from Portland Oregon shows how smoothly a Light Rail train can share a road with private automobiles. However, we will note we support the MTA’s proposal to close Campus Drive between the “M” and Stamp Union to vehicles except for service and emergency vehicles, and the train will operate on a dedicated right-of-way for the majority of the route.

Light Rail: Whisper-Quiet

This long video shot also in Portland demonstrates how a modern system can work in an urban context. Note that you can hear the voices of people’s conversations throughout the video because the train is quieter than a normal conversation.

On the opening day in Portland, authorities invited a band to preform inside a moving Light Rail vehicle. Imagine them trying to play in one of our diesel buses!

Light Rail Around the United States

MTA LRV in BaltimoreWith all the recent discussion about the Purple Line, it seems pertinent to explore the reasons that light rail transit (LRT) is being considered for the UM Campus and the larger Washington region.

Before 1972, the term light rail did not exist. It was coined by the Urban Mass Transit Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration) to describe the upgrades of streetcar systems that were starting to become popular in the United States as a cheaper alternative to constructing heavy rail (metro) systems. The wave of new LRT systems started in Canada, when Edmonton opened North America’s first LRT system in 1978. San Francisco followed in 1980, starting the US trend. One could also argue that Boston’s Green Line, which has been operating as a streetcar tunnel since 1897, became a light rail line in 1975 when it began upgrades to modern LRT technology.

LRT in Dresden Portland Streetcar at PSU

Light rail’s popularity stems from its cheapness. Light rail was originally implemented in cities of small to medium size, where a full-scale metro system was impractical. However as federal funding became more competitive and inflation drove construction costs up, many larger cities began to turn to light rail as well. It is perhaps the most versatile form of rail transit. While heavy rail systems like Metro are fully grade separated, LRT can operate in almost any context. Buffalo, New York’s light rail system is almost completely grade separated. Except for the southernmost 1.2 miles, the line is entirely in subway. The light rail systems in Dallas and Portland each have only one subway station; the rest are at grade. The T in Pittsburgh operates in a subway downtown, on its own right of way through most of the South Hills, and, in a few places–like Beechview, in-street with cars. Ridership is greatly varied. In some cities, Like Tacoma and Trenton, only a few thousand people board every day; in other places, light rail serves tens of thousands. The Green Line in Boston carries over 235,000 passengers on an average weekday.

MAX in Downtown Portland Muni Metro Subway

The features which distinguish light rail from heavy rail and streetcars are in various categories. Because LRVs often travel in mixed rights of way, they use caternary (overhead) wires to power the vehicle. To overcome objections to these wires, several systems use diesel powered vehicles. Of note, Ottawa’s O-Train and NJ Transit’s River Line operate as “diesel multiple unit” LRVs. Still, caternary wires do provide benefits, such as fewer localized pollution sources. They can also be screened easily through different methods, such as planting street trees (see the Portland example above on the left). Capacity is another major distinguishing feature. LRV’s typically have much higher capacities than do streetcars, including the ability to be coupled into trains of several units. However, they are considered ‘light’ in the sense of their comparison to heavy rail, with which they cannot compete on high ridership lines. The two largest factors surrounding the selection of light rail as a mode are context and cost. Low density streetcar suburbs and suburban employment centers tend to be better suited to light rail because they lack the concentration of trip generators and destinations that heavy rail necessitates. Light rail is also chosen in situations where enough capital cannot be raised to construct a full-scale metro system.

Light rail is a safe, efficient, clean, and attractive mode of transportation. It will replace the crowded and often gridlocked Campus Drive that we know with one which is safer for pedestrians (after all, there’s nothing more dangerous than a car for a pedestrian), more accessible to the larger region, and which is more environmentally friendly.

Light rail systems have been springing up across the country, and will likely continue to do so. Here is a list of cities with light rail.

For photos, click on the links.

*Boston’s Green Line: upgraded to LRT in 1975, opened 1897
*San Francisco’s Muni Metro: upgraded to LRT in 1980
*San Diego Trolley: opened 1981
*Cleveland‘s Blue and Green Lines: upgraded to LRT in 1981
*Buffalo Metro Rail: opened in 1984
*Portland’s MAX Light Rail: 1986
*Sacramento‘s RTD Light Rail: 1987
*San Jose‘s VTA Light Rail: 1987
*Pittsburgh‘s T: 1987
*Los Angeles’ Light Rail Lines (Blue, Green, Gold): 1990
*Baltimore’s Light Rail: 1992
*Saint Louis Metrolink: 1993
*Denver RTD’s The Ride: 1994
*Dallas‘ DART: 1996
*Salt Lake City‘s TRAX: 1999
*New Jersey’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail: 2000
*Tacoma LINK: 2003
*Houston METRORail: 2004
*Minneapolis‘ Hiawatha Line: 2004
*Trenton-Camden River Line: 2004
*Newark Light Rail: 2006
*Charlotte’s LYNX will open on November 24th, 2007
*Phoenix’s METRORail is under construction, opening 2008
*Seattle’s Central LINK is under construction, opening 2009
*Norfolk just started construction on the Tide, opening 2010

Last East Campus Meeting Rescheduled

The last next East Campus Community Review Steering Committee has been rescheduled for December 10th. Here is the announcement from the university:

*There will be no meeting this Monday, November 19. The upcoming scheduled meeting to review guiding principles for East Campus has been postponed. Some members of the committee expressed concern with the draft principles that we sent recently, so it was decided to postpone the meeting to allow additional time to further develop the document prior to the committee discussion. We will announce the new date for the principles meeting as soon as it has been determined.
*The next meeting will be Monday, December 10 (at the regular time and place). This meeting will be a follow-up discussion on transportation (primarily traffic and parking).

And a copy of the draft principles that has been circulated is available online here.

If anyone knows the specific nature of the delay, please post a comment. Are the principles specific enough to be meaningful?

The university has pointed out there will be at least one more currently unscheduled meeting to finalize the principles.

The Argument for a Heavy-Rail, Beltway Metro Line

Note: The following opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Rethink College Park, nor the views of other RCP contributors. Rethink College Park is always interested in contributed articles from community members.

With Purple Line’s cost-effectiveness as well as location on the University of Maryland campus being debated, perhaps we should take a look back on the history of the Purple Line route and how we got to where we are today.

The idea of a route connecting the two spokes of the Red Line surfaced not long after the initial construction of Metro, but it was not until the 1990s under then-Governor Parris Glendening that the line established steam and was expanded to include the line between Silver Spring and New Carrollton. At the time, there were two competing movements. Gov. Glendening championed a light-rail, Inner Line because that would do better to serve depressed, inner communities that could be well-served with more transit-oriented development. On the other hand, then-Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan supported a heavy-rail, outer Purple Line that more closely mirrored the route of the Beltway, under the notion that a Beltway line would better serve high-growth areas. At around the same time Gov. Glendening announced the Intercounty Connector project “dead”, the Inner Line won favor from politicians as the preferred route to connect the existing spokes of Metro in Suburban Maryland. When Robert Ehrlich became the next governor, he decided to rename the project the “Bi-County Transitway” to reflect the alternative proposal of bus rapid transit (BRT) that was being considered in addition to light rail.
Continue reading The Argument for a Heavy-Rail, Beltway Metro Line

University View Pictures Released

As we reported Sunday, the University View plans an absolutely massive phased expansion – 434 units (1,416 student beds) and a whopping 30,000+ S.F. of retail. The 1st phase is planned to take place by 2010 (directly in front of the University View) with the other phases (including a parking garage) materializing by 2012.

Special thanks to Councilmember Stephanie Stullich for getting ahold of these for the general public. Looks like we’re finally getting somewhere around here…

Full build out

Elevations:

University View elevations

Site Plan:
Street Pattern

Ground floor retail and amenity plan:

View first floor site planUniversity View Groundfloor siteplan

Existing locational charm:

Existing conditions as of 2007